Josh Thomson Continues Elusive Title Quest

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro


One of the MMA’s most decorated lightweights, Josh Thomson is a timeless athlete, defying all who insist that mixed martial arts is a young man’s game. And despite enduring enough career setbacks and injuries for several lifetimes, Thomson is determined to finally earn a crack at promotional gold on Saturday, July 26, when he squares off against Bobby Green at UFC on FOX 12.

Josh Thomson is the complete package. A native of San Jose, California, Thomson is a former JUCO All-American wrestler and Strikeforce lightweight champion, a slick and scrappy submission artist with an arsenal of agile Muay Thai and striking techniques. But for all his career accolades and triumphs, it is a mix of injuries and bad timing that has marred Thomson’s legacy, preventing him from ever competing for the UFC 155-pound title.

Back in 2003, Thomson was on the fast track to MMA superstardom, knocking out Gerald Strebendt in his Octagon debut at UFC 44. Thomson seemed destined for glory in the aughts, but it was not meant to be, as Zuffa shelved the lightweight division for a time, from 2004–2006, forcing “The Punk” to flee, taking refuge in the Strikeforce promotion.

It was in the hexagon that Thomson fought his most legendary battles, including a championship trilogy with current UFC number-one contender Gilbert Melendez. It was also while with Strikeforce that Thomson fell victim to the injury bug, breaking his ankle and leg, also tearing ligaments twice, forcing the American Kickboxing Academy standout out of competition for 15 months.

Thomson was never able to recapture the Strikeforce title after relinquishing the belt in December 2009. But when the promotion finally shuttered its doors in 2013, he was shipped back to the UFC, and to the back of a lengthy queue in the talent-rich 155-pound division, far, far away from the promised land of a prize he had coveted, by that point, for a decade.

Nearly ten years after his UFC debut, Josh Thomson found himself back in the Octagon, standing across from a highly touted Nate Diaz as a huge underdog. Thomson played his cards perfectly that April night, sticking to the perimeter, away from Diaz’s effective reach. And in the second frame, Thomson did the unthinkable, knocking out Diaz, a fighter who had never been stopped in UFC action, with a devastating head kick and a smattering of follow-up punches.

The victory was sweet, and suddenly Thomson’s name was being thrown around as a possible suitor to the belt, which had just landed around Anthony Pettis’s waist.

Shortly thereafter, in September 2013, Thomson was officially offered a bout against Pettis. But again, it was injury that caused a major setback, although on this occasion, Thomson was physically fine. Rather it was Pettis who sustained a torn PCL, forcing Thomson to accept a headlining, non-title affair with Benson Henderson.

Breaking his hand and injuring his thumb early in the five-round bout with Henderson, Thomson relied on his crafty groundwork to take his opponent’s back on several occasions. Thomson controlled much of the match, taking Henderson down, powering through the fracture. And while a win would have certainly catapulted Thomson into a title shot, he dropped a contentious split decision, prompting talk of pending retirement.

At 35, Thomson seemed reasonable to consider stepping away from competition. Discouraged by the result of his contest with Henderson (which many believe he won), Thomson managed to find himself further from the belt, while the champ continued to rehab. Even his all-time greatest rival, Melendez, managed to lawyer his way into a second UFC title shot in less than two years, making the chasm between Thomson and the lightweight title even wider.

And despite the injuries, despite the bad luck and poor timing, Josh Thomson is as relevant as he’s ever been, on the outside and looking in, but still not too far from being granted a title shot. He will need to look impressive against Green, an equally experienced veteran and former Strikeforce mainstay. Thomson will also most likely need a second signature Octagon victory, perhaps even a date with Donald Cerrone to determine who will meet the winner of Pettis and Melendez.

At this point there really is no guarantee that Thomson will ever get his title shot. But there is no doubt that “The Punk” will go out swinging, just for the chance to fight for MMA’s most coveted prize.


Check out this related story:

Nate Diaz and the Collapse of Certainty